At midnight on December 31, 1991, bells rang from the Savior Tower in the Kremlin and fireworks lit up the sky, marking the final end of the Soviet Union, the nation believed to have created heaven road on earth.
During its 70 years of existence, the Soviet regime killed at least 20 million of its citizens for political reasons. It also has the enchanting quality of an illusion. Its citizens are forced to become actors, playing the inhabitants of a new utopia in accordance with the infallible predictions of Marxist-Leninist ideology.
However, as history has shown, the Soviet Union was not indomitable. In 1988, Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev allowed a free space of information in Soviet society, creating a contradiction between free speech and a system based on lies. When glasnost unchecked, it leads to the collapse of the system. In the end, only a false reality can justify all-out strength.
The two forces that led Mr. Gorbachev to begin the reform that determined the fate of the Soviet Union. The first is the dissident movement, which offers a moral alternative even under conditions of totalitarianism. The second is the resolute opposition of the West, despite missteps and hesitations. Both challenged the Soviet Union on a value level.
Dissidents are important because they assert that words have meaning. The Soviet regime enacted “democratic rights”, then used terror to ensure that citizens never exercised them. Dissidents demand that the regime take its own laws seriously.
In August 1975, the Soviet Union signed the Helsinki Accords, which recognized the division of Europe but included a promise to respect human rights and the free flow of information. Dissidents have formed committees to monitor compliance with the regime. These committees became the best and often the only source of information for the West about Soviet violations of the Helsinki commitments. The Soviet regime responded with mass arrests, but the dissidents’ courage in defying the regime and willingness to face labor prison sentences was exemplary. for the whole country.
The Soviet Union was characterized by a unitary censorship mechanism. Everything that is published, broadcast or spoken on a public forum is subject to the control of the Communist Party and must affirm the value of Marxism-Leninism and its heroic leadership role. party.
Dissidents began circumventing censorship by tying banned literary and political works into four or five carbon copies and circulating them in secret. Authorities have responded to self-publishing, or samizdat, with arrests. Dissidents made the arrests public, often in the underground journal Chronicle of Current Events, fostering a subculture of refusal to submit and soon included a substantial portion of the population. intellectuals. Samizdat maintains a field of intellectual freedom despite totalitarian control.
The Soviet Union also faced a West whose integrity and institutions remained largely intact. Massive Soviet missile SS-18 was highly accurate, shocking Central Intelligence Bureau analysts who believed that the Soviet Union could not develop such an accurate missile within 10 five. The Soviet nuclear arsenal amounted to 45,000 to 60,000 bombs and warheads. In preparation for war, the Soviets also built a second 217-mile subway train deep under the Moscow metro and 2,000-foot-deep bunkers to protect the party elite.
President Reagan rejected the idea that the West had no alternatives to accommodation. In the words of former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, he carried out the attack “ideologically and geostrategically”. The Pentagon’s budget nearly doubled, from $158 billion in 1981 to $304 billion in 1989. The money spent on research and development doubled between 1981 and 1986. Regarding his strategy, Reagan said very simple: “We win. They lost.”
Soviet efforts to force the West to back down were unsuccessful. The Soviet Union installed a movable multi-warhead SS-20 missile aimed at Western Europe. The United States responded with plans to deploy a Pershing missile with a similar range in West Germany and a Tomahawk ground-launched nuclear cruise missile in three other North Atlantic Treaty Organization member states.
The Soviet Union launched a massive propaganda campaign against this deployment. German novelist Günter Grass compared it to the Nazi Wannsee Conference, which prepared the Holocaust. The Red Army forces in Germany carried out terrorist attacks on US and NATO facilities with weapons and training from the Stasi, the East German secret police. Despite the great opposition, the West was adamant and the missiles were deployed.
At the same time, America’s rearmament drive began to bear fruit. In June 1982, Israeli pilots – flying US F-15 and F-16 jets and taking advantage of the latest advances in microelectronics and computer technology – destroyed 81 jets. Soviet MiG-21 and MiG-23 production in the Bekaa Valley in Lebanon without losing a single plane. On March 23, 1983, Reagan announced the Strategic Defense Initiative, which aimed to make it possible to intercept Soviet missiles in space.
Stunned by these developments, the Soviets finally decided to take the risk of major reforms.
Thirty years later, we no longer have to face an enemy like the Soviet Union, who threatens to overwhelm Europe and potentially spread its influence around the world. However, perseverance and a sense of honor that defeated the Soviet Union are still needed to this day.
The US withdrawal from Afghanistan is a painful reminder of how far we have come. Communism and radical Islam are ideologies that divide the world into the elected and the vulgar, denying individuality and suppressing free will. Both regard man-made dogma as infallible truth and seek to impose it by force.
Against that backdrop, the war in Afghanistan failed just as Americans began repeating “no more endless wars” and disbelieving what we would leave behind, claiming that we were towards the exits.
The Soviet Union is part of the past, but it is our duty to draw the appropriate lessons from its demise. Instead, America turned inward. The defense of universal values has been replaced by internal political infighting over issues like climate change and gender identity. This is a tragic and dangerous situation. Soviet communism was defeated, but history still moves in cycles. It is foolish to think that we will never face an ideological test again.
Mr. Satter is the author of “Age of Delirium: The Decline and Fall of the Soviet Union.”
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